IOWA CITY — Two weeks ago Iowa fell into a coma defensively at Michigan, giving up 95 points and allowing scores on 33 of 41 possessions over a 23-minute span.
Iowa (13-5, 2-3 Big Ten) allowed the Wolverines to shoot better than 58 percent. That included transition baskets (16), points off turnovers (15), in the paint (44) and 3-point range (10-of-22). After a good chewing out and an hour-long video session — about twice as long as usual — the Hawkeyes were forced to refocus on defense.
"That Michigan game was so frustrating to watch," Iowa senior Eric May said. "We held each other accountable. Guys are standing up, we made mistakes, mental mistakes. We weren’t tired, just not disciplined enough. We took that to heart. We’ve been kind of turning it up since then."
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery made a defense a priority after the Hawkeyes allowed a Big Ten-worst 72.1 points per game last year. McCaffery said the addition of four defensive-minded freshmen allows for depth to help maintain intensity. That's why an early loss at Virginia Tech coupled with a 28-point pasting at Michigan was so frustrating, Iowa junior guard Devyn Marble said.
"Last year I would have said we just need to work on our defense," Marble said. "The thing that was a little of our character (at Michigan), was we got frustrated and started taking quick shots. That affected us on defense."
In Iowa's last three games, the Hawkeyes have held each opponent to less than 44 percent from the field and given up an average of 59.3 points. Opponents have been challenged throughout possessions with better on-ball defense to good rotations in the post.
After a diligent performance at Northwestern, where the Hawkeyes held the Wildcats to 29.4 percent shooting, Iowa ratcheted up an even stronger performance in a 70-66 win against Wisconsin on Saturday. The Badgers entered the game averaging a national-best 8.9 turnovers per game. The Hawkeyes forced eight in the first half and 12 overall.
The Badgers (13-5, 4-1 Big Ten) shot 23.1 percent in the first half, its worst half this season. Wisconsin missed 17 of its first 20 shots and most were contested.
"We were making plays, we were able to take them out of what they wanted to run," May said. "That says a lot because Wisconsin is a deliberate team. They’re experienced. They’ve got a lot of veteran guys who are out on the court, and we took it to them. I’m proud of my guys."
"The thing is this year we’re more mature and even when we’re not shooting well and scoring a lot of points, we’ve found ways to dig in on defense," Marble said. "I think that’s a big thing coming into this season we worked on so far. We’ve had our defensive lapses like any team but the difference between the great teams and the good teams is how we can minimize those lapses and we’re still working on that. Each game is a work in progress."
1. The Street commemoration was well-done. Much has been written this week about Chris Street, who died in a tragic car accident 20 years ago. The week was very emotional for fans who watched Street play and the memories flowed back to the moment when you found out about Street's death.
The basketball program did a terrific job of teaching the current players about Street. They watched a documentary on Street so they could intelligently answer questions from us media types. They wore a replica of the same patch Iowa's players wore in 1993 and warmed up in T-shirts sold to raise money for Street's foundation. Iowa placed a gold "Street 40"jersey on the bench next to the scorer's table.
But more importantly, the players weren't browbeaten with rhetoric. Most of them were barely walking when Street died. They knew how important it was to Iowa's fan base to win the game, but they still had a game to play -- and win.
"To have that jersey next to Coach (Kirk) Speraw was pretty cool," Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. "I looked over at it a couple of times."
The halftime ceremony, which included eight past Chris Street Award winners and a video tribute, was emotional. There were patches of Wisconsin fans throughout the arena and all of them I saw were standing with Iowa fans. That's one reason why I think this rivalry is special.
2. Anthony Clemmons is way too underrated. Clemmons produced solid numbers against the Badgers — 10 points, three assists, three rebounds, only one turnover — in 20 minutes. But Clemmons' impact was well beyond the box score. He sank all four free throws, including two in the final minute. He often defended Ben Brust (3 for 5) or Traevon Jackson (1 for 10). But one sequence shows he has the potential to be special for a long time.
Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans drove to the basket for a layup, and Clemmons pinned Evans' shot against the backboard for a block. Clemmons grabbed the rebound and dribbled up the court. He penetrated the lane, knowing Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe was trailing behind to his right. Clemmons drove hard left to get proper spacing and draw the defenders toward him. He then passed right to Basabe, who exploded to the basket for a vicious dunk and drew a foul from Evans.
That was a four-point swing (Basabe missed the free throw) and Evans eventually fouled out.
3. May can still get up for dunks. Eric May has become Iowa's designated defender off the bench, and he produced the game's highlight-reel moment.
May guarded talented Wisconsin freshman Sam Dekker (you will read plenty of stotires about him over the next few years) on the perimeter, and May intercepted a Mike Bruesewitz pass intended for Dekker. May streaked toward the hoop and threw down a thunderous two-handed jam that extended Iowa's lead to 13 points with 9:21 left in the game.
"I was just hoping I was going to get there," May said. "I felt like I misjudged the time a little bit, but I got it down."
I often remark on Twitter about songs played by either the Iowa pep band or the arena music during basketball games (probably to an annoying level).
I usually make a point to mention when House of Pain's Jump Around" airs at Carver-Hawkeye Arena because it is an iconic song between the third and fourth quarters at Wisconsin football games. I usually add something snarky that you won't hear AC/DC's "Back in Black" at the Kohl Center so why would Iowa play "Jump Around" at Carver? Most Iowa basketball fans are savvy enough to go silent when "Jump Around" was aired because it's a rival's song so it does nothing for the atmosphere.
Well, "Jump Around" has been retired at Carver. Here's a tweet on the matter: